Park’s approval rating falls to 29.7%

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Park’s approval rating falls to 29.7%

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The approval rating for President Park Geun-hye hit a record low of 29.7 percent in a poll conducted by Realmeter on Tuesday.

It is unusual for a president just entering the third year in office to see his or her approval rating fall below 30 percent.

The rating fell 4.5 percentage points from a poll conducted Friday. The proportion of 1,000 adults nationwide who disapproved of the president’s performance rose 4.4 percentage points over the same period to reach a record high of 62.6 percent.

The worst-ever ratings came after the president last Friday nominated Lee Wan-koo, former floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, as prime minister and after she reinstituted an old system of presidential advisors. Both were supposed to assuage public demands for a major reshuffle of her staff and cabinet following a Blue House influence scandal and an embarrassing rise in year-end tax bills for many middle-class Koreans.

“The 4.5 percent decline [in the presidential approval rating] that immediately followed the president’s nomination of the new prime minister indicates that the public was substantially disappointed,” said Hwang Tae-soon, a political analyst at Wisdom Center, a private think tank. “I am afraid the president has already entered the lame-duck period since there seems to be no room for a rebound at the moment and her approval ratings are likely to dip further.”

Unlike Gallup, which relies on random calls to mobile phones for its surveys, Realmeter conducts its polls over landlines. That means Realmeter’s respondents are highly likely be older people staying at home, who tend to be relatively more conservative - Park’s support base.

“Even in Park’s strongholds of Daegu and North Gyeongsang, the negative assessment increased,” said Kwon Soon-jung, head of the opinion poll department at Realmeter. “Positive evaluations of her dwindled among respondents in their 60s.”

Park’s predecessors saw their approval ratings sink worryingly low as they entered the fourth year of their five-year, single term. They often reached the 20 percent range in the final year.

Based on data from Gallup Korea, only former President Roh Tae-woo, who served between 1988 and 1993, saw approval ratings in the 20 percent range in the first half of his third year in office. Even former President Roh Moo-hyun, whose approval ratings tumbled to below 15 percent in his fourth year, maintained 30 percent in ratings during the first three months of his third year in the presidency.

The biggest blow to the president’s popularity was higher-than-expected tax bills for office workers for 2014, the result of the National Assembly’s passage of a revised tax law at the end of 2013. Park’s government had said the changes would only affect the rich, which turned out to be a lie. Park campaigned for the presidency on a slogan of more welfare without tax increases.

The approval ratings for Park hovered above 50 percent until mid-November of last year. They started their downward spiral when the biggest political scandal of her administration broke at the end of November. Local newspaper Segye Ilbo reported on Nov. 28 that a Blue House internal report accused the president’s former aide, Chung Yoon-hoi, of exerting his influence behind the scenes with some presidential secretaries.

There were loud calls for Park to dismiss some of the officials named in the report for a fresh start in the new year. Instead, she opted for a minor reshuffle, sparing her powerful chief of staff, Kim Ki-choon, as well as three other longtime secretaries. After she publicly defended and endorsed the four during a New Year’s press conference on Jan. 12, her approval ratings fell to the 30 percent range.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]


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